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It has never been known who ordered to attack General Prim, and by now, 150 years after the assassination, it seems unlikely that any new document will appear that will shed light on one of the most impenetrable enigmas in the political history of Spain. There is something in the case of the then president of the government that was repeated, almost a century later, with the Kennedy assassination: the official truth has always been in question, the alternative thesis has not stopped having defenders, and conspiracy theories circulate that point to bizarre solutions that have more to do with the literature of intrigue than with criminology.
And, after all, Joan Prim was an absolutely romantic character, so much so that Galds dedicated one of his last National Episodes to her, in 1906, and was even quoted in Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, in reference to to a secondary character whose father “had been our ambassador in Madrid, when Isabel II was young and Prim a stranger.” His military career was glorious – undefeated in the First Carlist War, recognized with the sash of general at the age of 29, hero of the battle of Tetun in 1860, sent Elizabeth II into exile -, his life transocenic and his influence among leaders was enormous foreigners, both when he was a progressive deputy in the courts and when he was forced into exile because of his frictions with conservatives surrounding the queen.
Thus, in the same way that he acted with courage, despised danger and lived at the service of a noble cause – the constitutional monarchy as the axis of a modern Spain that guaranteed the exercise of freedoms, including universal male suffrage -, Prim was true to his charisma and temperament until the end. The traditional version that explains his death even has echoes in Plutarch and Shakespeare, when they indicate that Julius Caesar had ignored taking care of the Ides of March and, bare-chested, went to the Senate, where he was stabbed to death. It is said that on up to three occasions Prim was warned of the rumor of a conspiracy against him that December 27, 1870 in which he was shot point-blank in the Calle del Turco, when he was leaving the Congress. Three times he ignored them, and even refused to take an escort.
The first notice came from his assistant, Ricardo Muiz, after a confidentiality about a plot that 10 people were going to execute. The second came from Miguel Morayta, a Republican deputy, an ideological rival of the moderate liberals but who, nevertheless, was Prim’s Freemason brother, and who tried to divert him to the lodge so that he would not go directly home. Another republished deputy, Eugenio Garca Ruiz, gave the third alert, pleading with the general to take an alternate path. Ignoring it, Prim got into the carriage at seven in the afternoon and kept her routine. It was then that, as the folklore story explains, the match telegraph was activated.
Those who had prepared the attack had also designed a warning system to confirm that Prim was taking and maintaining the planned route. A man stationed in a corner struck a match and signaled to the one beyond, until he reached the armed men. It was winter, a dark night, and it was snowing over Madrid: upon reaching the Turco, the carriage found itself the road blocked by two cars.
With Prim were two secretaries named Moya and Nandn, but the assassins who appeared from the sides of the carriage, armed with blunderbuss, had no doubt who their target was: they shot Prim in the chest, causing severe wounds also in the arms; Nandn also took a hit and lost a hand trying to cover Prim. The coachman managed to escape from the confinement and reach the Buenavista Palace, the general’s residence; The three companions helped the wounded man up to his bed and called a doctor.
The first confusing development of events has to do with the actual time (and day) of death. The official version indicates that Prim arrived wounded, and that he resisted three days in bed before dying from an infection of the wounds on December 30, 1870, just when the king he had sought to replace Elizabeth II, Amadeus of Savoy, he arrived in Cartagena to accept the crown. During that time, it is said, Prim put his affairs of state in order; after all, he planned to resign hours later.
However, the first autopsy indicated that the injuries were serious, that the chest was damaged and the arms were disabled. The alternative theory proposes that Prim died that day, but that the secret was kept so as not to compromise the arrival of King Amadeus. The state plumber, in short, put up a cover so that chaos would not be imposed.
Who wanted Prim’s death? There are four theses. The most conspiranoid suggested that the plot was orchestrated the Cuban slave traders to sabotage Prim’s diplomacy with the United States to abolish slavery. Then there is the official investigation, which led to trial Jos Pal Angulo, an Andalusian federalist deputy, who is presumed to have the support of political rivals such as Romanones. Pal pleaded not guilty and no evidence could be gathered against him, although several circumstantial facts seemed to point to his involvement.
The most solid theory points, on the other hand, to General Serrano, Prim’s fierce historical antagonist, regent at the time, and who sought to curb the progressive trend that the president was marking. The most plausible theory, however, is the one that points to the surroundings of the Duke of Montpensier, husband of the Infanta Luisa Fernanda and brother-in-law of Isabel II, who he was running as a Bourbon candidate for the vacant throne. But if Prim didn’t want something, it was a new Bourbon king.
In the 19th century it was common for authorities to be embalmed and buried with honors. Prim fell into the Basilica of Our Lady of Atocha, although some 50 years ago she was found definitively resting in the cemetery of Reus, her hometown. In 2010, before the bicentennial celebration of the birth in 1814, the mummy was exhumed to check its conservation status, Taking advantage of the circumstance, a new forensic examination of the remains was made.
This second autopsy revealed some unknown facts: the initial injuries were more serious than what was said, and that would dismantle the thesis that Prim could have lasted three days with so much blood loss. Also, there was a mark on the neck that looked like a rope. Was Prim strangled while he was dying, to finish him off?
The new inspection was not, however, conclusive. Some researchers have accepted it as good – in 2014 several controversial texts were published supporting the thesis of the double murder – while others have qualified it with solid criteria. Still, there is room for doubt and the solution remains impenetrable. The revised version of the official thesis rules out strangulation – the marks were due to a rubbing of the collar of the military jacket – and reduces the severity of the shots, with which Prim could have held out until December 30.
Be that as it may, his wish was fulfilled thanks to the political maneuvers of those three critical days: there was a king, and it was not Bourbon, although the apao was a sad patch of two years. What remains is the suggestive aroma of uncertainty of a legendary murder.
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